ERIC Identifier: ED434245 Publication Date: 1999-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
New Directions for Cooperative Education. ERIC Digest No. 209.
Cooperative education has existed in the United States for most of the 20th
century as a structured method of combining academic education with practical
work experience. For a number of reasons, its promise has not been fully
realized (Barton 1996). However, it is taking on new importance in an
environment characterized by school-to-work, service learning, and experiential
learning initiatives. This Digest explores the factors helping and hindering
co-op at this juncture in its history, examines how it is being reconceived to
meet contemporary needs, and identifies implications for the broader
school-to-work (STW) enterprise.
THE STORY SO FAR
From its beginnings in Cincinnati in 1906,
cooperative education has evolved into a program offered at the secondary and
postsecondary levels in two predominant models (Grubb and Villeneuve 1995). In
one model, students alternate a semester of academic coursework with an equal
amount of time in paid employment, repeating this cycle several times until
graduation. The parallel method splits the day between school (usually in the
morning) and work (afternoon). Thus, like STW, the co-op model includes
school-based and work-based learning and, in the best programs, "connecting
activities" such as seminars and teacher-coordinator worksite visits. These
activities help students explicitly connect work and learning.
Co-op's proponents identify benefits for students (including motivation,
career clarity, enhanced employability, vocational maturity) and employers
(labor force flexibility, recruitment/retention of trained workers, input into
curricula) as well as educational institutions and society (ibid.). Beyond
informal and anecdotal evidence, however, a familiar refrain in the literature
is the lack of well-done research that empirically demonstrates these benefits
(Barton 1996; Wilson, Stull, and Vinsonhaler 1996). Barton (1996) identifies
some of the research problems for secondary co-op as follows: federal data
collection on high school co-op enrollments and completions ceased in the 1980s;
some studies use data in which co-op was not isolated from other work experience
programs. Ricks et al. (1993) describe other problems: due to lack of a clear or
consistent definition of cooperative education, researchers cannot accurately
identify variables and findings cannot be compared; theory is not well
developed; theory, research, and practice are not integrated; and co-op research
does not adhere to established standards.
Another set of problems involves perceptions of the field and its
marginalization. Because of its "vocational" association, co-op is not regarded
as academically legitimate; rather, it is viewed as taking time away from the
classroom (Crow 1997). Experiential activities are not necessarily rewarded in
postsecondary promotion and tenure systems, and co-op faculty may be isolated
from other faculty (Crow 1997; Schaafsma 1996). Despite the current emphasis on
contextual learning, work is not recognized as a vehicle for learning (Ricks et
al. 1993). Schaasfma (1996) and Van Gyn (1996) agree that the field places too
much emphasis on placements rather than learning. Wilson, Stull, and Vinsonhaler
(1996) also decry the focus on administration, logistics, placements, and
Some institutions are fully dedicated to the co-op ideal (such as Antioch
University and LaGuardia Community College). In others, the co-op program may be
viewed as an add-on and therefore is vulnerable to cost cutting (Wilson et al.
1996). Even where co-op programs are strong they can be threatened, as at
Cincinnati Technical College when it became a comprehensive community college
(Grubb and Villeneuve 1995) or LaGuardia during a budget crisis (Grubb and
Badway 1998). For students, costs and time to degree completion may be
deterrents to co-op participation (Grubb and Villeneuve 1995).
REDESIGNING CO-OP FOR CURRENT REALITIES
Although this is a
gloomy picture, there are reasons for optimism about the future of co-op. "Social, economic, and historic forces are making cooperative education more
relevant than ever" (ibid., p. 17), including emphasis on
university-industry-government cooperation, a fluid and demanding workplace, new
technology, the need for continuous on-the-job learning, globalization, and
demands for accountability (John, Doherty, and Nichols 1998). Federal
investments in school-to-work and community service have resulted in a number of
initiatives designed to provide "learning opportunities beyond the classroom
walls" (Furco 1996, p. 9). Because this has always been a principle of co-op,
the field is in a position to capitalize on its strengths and the ways it
complements other experiential methods in the effort to provide meaningful
learning opportunities for students. To do this, however, cooperative education
must be redesigned.
For Wilson, Stull, and Vinsonhaler (1996), a new vision involves conceiving,
defining, and presenting co-op "as a curriculum model that links work and
academics-a model that is based on sound learning theory" (p. 158). Ricks (1996)
suggests affirming the work-based learning principles upon which co-op is based.
These principles assert that cooperative education fosters self-directed
learning, reflective practice, and transformative learning; and integrates
school and work learning experiences that are grounded in adult learning
Schaafsma (1996) also focuses on learning, seeing a need for a paradigm shift
from content learning to greater understanding of learning processes, including
reflection and critical thinking. Co-op is an experiential method, but learning
from experience is not automatic. Therefore, Van Gyn (1996) recommends
strengthening the reflective component that is already a part of some co-op
models. "If co-op is only a vehicle for experience to gain information about the
workplace and to link technical knowledge with workplace application, then its
effectiveness is not fully developed" (p. 125).
INTEGRATING EXPERIENTIAL METHODS
School-to-work and service
learning have also been promoted as ways to link theory and practice through
meaningful experiential learning experiences. Furco (1996) outlines the
similarities between school-to-work and service learning. Although
school-to-work, service learning, and co-op have different goals, each of his
points also applies to cooperative education:
on the philosophy that learners learn best through active engagement in
of students as active learners and producers of knowledge
of such instructional strategies as contextual learning and application of
knowledge to real situations
for schools to establish formal partnerships with outside entities
for integrating school experiences and external experiences
The Community Service Scholarship Program at California State
University-Fresno combines cooperative education with service learning. Students
receive co-op/internship credit and scholarships for completing a placement at a
community service site (Derousi and Sherwood 1997). As in traditional co-op work
placements, students get real-world training, opportunities to explore career
options, and enhanced employability skills such as communication, problem
solving, and leadership as well as awareness of community and social problems.
Combining co-op and service learning thus prepares students for roles as workers
Research on highly successful co-op programs in Cincinnati (Grubb and
Villeneuve 1995) and at LaGuardia Community College (Grubb and Badway 1998)
shows that they share the basic philosophy and fundamental characteristics of
the educational strategy of school-to-work. The reconceptualization of co-op
should recognize and build upon this connection. At the same time, lessons from
successful co-op programs can benefit the broader STW movement.
There is a need for broader definition of acceptable models for integrating
work and learning. Barton (1996) and Wilson et al. (1996) identify a variety of
work-based learning activities taking different names: co-op, internships,
externships, apprenticeship, career academies, etc. Work-based learning programs
should look for connections and develop collaborative relationships. The
alternating and parallel co-op models may not meet the needs of returning adult
students and dislocated workers needing retraining (Varty 1994). Alternatives
such as extended-day programs emphasizing mentoring should be considered.
Connecting activities to integrate school- and work-based learning are an
essential part of STW. At LaGuardia, the required co-op seminar helps students
make connections by giving them a structure within which to reinforce
employability skills, examine larger issues about work and society, and
undertake the crucial activities of critical reflection (Grubb and Badway 1998).
Grubb and Badway (1998) and Grubb and Villeneuve (1995) found that the value
of cooperative education is embedded in the culture of the institution
(LaGuardia) and the region (Cincinnati). In this supportive culture, employer
support does not have to be repeatedly obtained and there are clearly understood
long-term expectations on all sides (schools, employers, students). This
"informal culture of expectations around work-based learning may be more
powerful in the long run than a complex set of regulations and bureaucratic
requirements" (Grubb and Villeneuve 1995, p. 27).
However, even LaGuardia has found it difficult to sustain co-op culture over
time (Grubb and Badway 1998). "The only way in which STW programs can find a
permanent place in schools and colleges is for the work-based component to
become so central to the educational purposes of the institutions that it
becomes as unthinkable to give it up as it would be to abandon math, English, or
science" (ibid., p. 28).
Finn (1997) believes that the answer lies in going beyond reconceiving co-op
as an "educational strategy, pedagogy, model, methodology, or curriculum" (Finn
1997, p. 41). She asserts that it is time for cooperative education to develop
and define its body of knowledge, investigate its unique phenomena-e.g., the
concept of learning from experience, and clarify and strengthen the
qualifications of co-op practitioners. For Ricks (1996), cooperative education
is inherently committed to improving the economy, people's working lives, and
lifelong learning abilities. It can thus position itself to serve the
experiential learning needs of students into the 21st century.
Barton, P. E. Cooperative Education in High
School: Promise and Neglect. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1996.
(ED 400 413)
Crow, C. "Cooperative Education in the New Millennium." Cooperative Education
Experience, pp. 1-5. Columbia, MD: Cooperative Education Association, 1997. (ED
Derousi, P., and Sherwood, C. S. "Community Service Scholarships: Combining
Cooperative Education with Service Learning." Journal of Cooperative Education
33, no. 1 (Fall 1997): 46-54. (EJ 565 927)
Finn, K. L. "The Spaces Between: Toward a New Paradigm for Cooperative
Education." Journal of Cooperative Education 32, no. 2 (Winter 1997): 36-45. (EJ
Freeland, R. M.; Marini, R. C.; and Weighart, S. "Moving Partnerships between
Co-op Institutions and Co-op Employers into the Next Century." Journal of
Cooperative Education 33, no. 2 (Winter 1998): 17-27.
Furco, A. "Service Learning and School-to-Work." Journal of Cooperative
Education 32, no. 1 (Fall 1996): 7-14.
Grubb, W. N., and Badway, N. Linking School-Based and Work-Based Learning:
The Implications of LaGuardia's Co-op Seminars for School-to-Work Programs.
Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1998. (ED
Grubb, W. N., and Villeneuve, J. C. Co-operative Education in Cincinnati.
Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1995.
John, J. E. A.; Doherty, D. J.; and Nichols, R. M. "Challenges and
Opportunities for Cooperative Education." Journal of Cooperative Education 33,
no. 2 (Winter 1998): 10-16.
Ricks, F. "Principles for Structuring Cooperative Education Programs."
Journal of Cooperative Education 31, nos. 2-3 (Winter-Spring 1996): 8-22. (EJ
Ricks, F.; Cutt, J.; Branton, G.; Loken, M.; and Van Gyn, G. "Reflections on
the Cooperative Education Literature." Journal of Cooperative Education 29, no.
1 (Fall 1993): 6-23. (EJ 475 316)
Schaafsma, H. "Reflections of a Visiting Co-op Practitioner." Journal of
Cooperative Education 31, nos. 2-3 (Winter-Spring 1996): 83-100. (EJ 524 109)
Van Gyn, G. H. "Reflective Practice: The Needs of Professions and the Promise
of Cooperative Education." Journal of Cooperative Education 31, nos. 2-3
(Winter-Spring 1996): 103-131. (EJ 524 110)
Varty, J. W. "Cooperative Education for the '90s and Beyond."
Co-op/Experience/Co-op 5, no. 1 (March 1994): 10-11. (EJ 478 859)
Wilson, J. W.; Stull, W. A.; and Vinsonhaler, J. "Rethinking Cooperative
Education." Journal of Cooperative Education 31, nos. 2-3 (Winter-Spring 1996):
154-165. (EJ 524 112)
Please note that this site is privately owned and is in no way related
to any Federal agency or ERIC unit. Further, this site is using a
privately owned and located server. This is NOT a government sponsored
or government sanctioned site. ERIC is a Service Mark of the U.S. Government.
This site exists to provide the text of the public domain ERIC Documents
previously produced by ERIC. No new content will ever appear here
that would in any way challenge the ERIC Service Mark of the U.S. Government.